Monday, June 29, 2015

Movie - Edtv

Edtv (1999) - A video store clerk (Matthew McConaughey) agrees to let his life be broadcast live on cable TV.  Unedited and unscripted.  Quickly his entire family and the woman he loves will begin to feel the burden of the lack privacy when thier lives become "reality TV".  In the end he will have to decide what's most important in his life.

The instant you bring up this movie the comparisons with Jim Carrey's "The Truman Show" will begin.  The two movies share a common concept, a man's life broadcast as entertainment, but they take two very different approaches to the topic.  If you let yourself get caught into the "either/or" argument here you will miss out.  "The Truman Show" got there first (1998), was a huge financial success and picked up a fair number of awards and nominations.  Add in the devoted fandom of Jim Carrey's and the usual "winner" in the discussion is "The Truman Show".

But "Edtv" has steadily grown a following in the years after it's underwhelming first run.  While Carrey's story has an almost otherworldly feel to it, this one is much the grittier and, well, more "real life".  "The Truman Show" may offer more high flown concepts about the intrusion of media, existentialism and theology but "Edtv" forces us to look a little more closely at ourselves as consumers of this kind of programming. When transform real people into our entertainment we need to be aware of the impact it will have on their lives.  They don't stop being human beings.  The movie gives a fairly unblinking look at the effect of making real life simply entertainment for the masses can have.

Both these movies come at the very beginning of the "reality TV" boom.  While the quality of "The Truman Show" remains steady, I think the years have shown just how in tune with what was to come "Edtv" really was.

Why I Like The Movie : I like the grittier approach to the subject here.  "The Truman Show" (which is a great movie), makes the whole thing too antiseptic and remote.  You can shake your head about the poor behavior of "those people".  This movie is much more about US and our bad behavior.  Our glorification of fame and idealization of "television stardom" are behaviors that we could certainly stand to reduce.  At the same time, the movie brings the message with plenty of laughs and character depth.

Why You'll Like The Movie: Start with a great, "spot the stars" cast (Jenna Elfman, Woody Harrelson, Ellen DeGeneres, Sally Kirkland, Martin Landau, Rob Reiner, Dennis Hopper, Elizabeth Hurley, Clint Howard and a slew of familiar supporting actors).  Add in Ron Howard's deft directorial touch and a solid, if slightly predictable, script.  Just like the TV show version, "Edtv" is going to give you a little of everything - comedy, romance, drama, sex and death.  You will have fun along the way.

It may also make you just a little uncomfortable about your viewing habits.  Almost 20 years later reality TV is woven even deeper into our media culture.  And it hasn't gotten any better along the way.

Rating - ****Recommended

Monday, June 22, 2015

Movie - Revenge of the Nerds

Revenge of the Nerds (1984) - Two high school buddies (Robert Carradine and Anthony Edwards) hope to leave their lives as high school nerds behind at college.  Together with a band of misfits hey end up in a battle with the jock fraternity for control of the Greek Council and their own sense of identity.

This movie is what it is.  It's low brow humor, stereotypes of nerds, jocks and Greek organizations.  There's also a little nudity (mostly female).  If you're not into that then you should just walk away on this one.

Why I Like It: Like Robert Carradine's character's laugh, this movie is more than a little ridiculous.  There's nothing subtle about it.  But then it's not trying for subtle.  If you want the subtle, deep version of this story look to the movie that inspired it, "Animal House".  What it does have is a goofy innocent charm.  The nerd characters are playing "above their weight class" at the beginning and try to catch up with the grace of a running puppy.  With a fine cast (Carradine and Edwards are joined by Timothy Busfield, John Goodman, Bernie Casey,Ted McGinley and James Cromwell in a small role as Carradine's father.  Then add in some outstanding support actors like Curtis Armstrong, Larry B. Scoot and Michelle Meyrink) the movie just puts it's head down and decides to enjoy the ride.  There are a few times during the movie when I wince at the humor but the good moments outweigh the bad.

Why You Will Like It: If you like your comedy like the stereotypical cheerleader, good looks and not much brains, you'll have fun.  The cast looks like it's having a blast doing this (post production interviews confirm that).  This is a classic David vs. Goliath story.  The "rock" that brings down the giant here are the nerds brains and basic decency.  You get a classic bad guy (Ogre from the jock fraternity) and his iconic line "NEEEERRRRDDDDSSSSSSS!!!!!!".  And at the end you'll feel good about who comes out on top.

There's a little nerd in all of us.

Rated - R

Rating - *** Worth A Look

Monday, June 15, 2015

Movie Review - Safety Not Guaranteed

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) - A magazine reporter and two interns follow up on a personal ad looking for companions for time travel.  The grocery clerk who posted the ad is paranoid and doesn't like the reporter but connects with one of the interns.  The idea of travelling back in time to change a pivotal moment in your life gives them all something to think about.  It will take them places they don't expect.

The story is based on an actual newspaper ad.

Why I Like It:As always, fun, quirky little movies have a warm spot in my heart.  Shot in four weeks on a budget of $750,000 this is a gem.  Director Colin Treverrow lets the story take the lead and feels no need to try any directorial tricks along the way.  That purity of effort pays off.

Why You Will Like It: Great characters that have depth and fun dialogue.  Just sit back and enjoy the ride.  It will take you to unexpected places as well.  It's all the things we want from movies.

Simple storytelling and solid performances deliver.  The movie will surprise and charm you.

Rated - R

Rating - **** Recommended

Monday, June 8, 2015

Movie Review - Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are (2009) -  Max is a nine year old boy whose life is turning upside down. Max likes to pretend he's a wolf, chasing his dog and howling.  His older sister doesn't really want
him hanging around, his teacher scares him by talking about the sun dying and his mother has a new boyfriend.  When things just get too stressful he ends up lashing out, biting his mother and running away.  He ends up on an island filled with fantastical Wild Things (voiced by James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara and Forest Whitaker among others).  They proclaim him king and proceed to build an enormous fort.  Slowly conflicts arise.  Max has to try find a balance among his new friends and what his heart really desires.  Based on the Maurice Sendak book of the same name.

Why I Like It:  This was a movie that took some chances.  Early attempts at bringing the book to the screen struggled with how to create the Wild Things.  They looked at full on animation, CGI, mixes of live and animation.  In the end they settled on full live action with the animatronic bodies supplied by the Jim Henson's Creature Shop crew.  In the end director Spike Jonze brings an interesting visual experience to the project.  At the same time it felt ponderous at times and the sadness of the story just ground down on me.  The movie adds extensive material to the original 330+ word story.  Sendak fans will either love or hate the additional material.

Why You Will Like It: Sendak fans will certainly love the meticulous translation to the screen.  The author himself was a big fan of the story.  It is a fantastical journey that is fully committed to the vision. Visually, the movie is very impressive.

In the end, 100+ minutes of such sadness just becomes more than the visuals can overcome.

Rated - PG

Rating: ***1/2 Recommended

Monday, June 1, 2015

Movie Review - Witness for the Prosecution

Witness for the Prosecution (1957) - An aging English barrister in ill health (Charles Laughton) is hired to defend an American (Tyrone Power) accused of killing an elderly friend.  His wife (Marlena Dietrich) initially provides her husband with an alibi but her story becomes gradually more
complicated as she is called as a witness for the prosecution.  The lawyer has to find his way through the maze surrounding the case while protecting his health and fending off his bossy nurse (Elsa Lanchester).

Why I Like It: This has got all the right buttons pushed for me.  Great cast, Billy Wilder directing and a story by Agatha Christie.  Wilder did the screenplay adaptation and gives his usual polished treatment.  The story moves, the dialogue crackles and just when you think you've figured it out, something new darts onto stage.  Wilder wraps it up in a great twist ending.

Why You Will Like It:  In addition to the above you won't want to miss the great performances especially Laughton and Dietrich.  Each one carefully works all the angles they have as they try to find the outcome they want.  Dietrich is icy and remote, Laughton is a force of nature.  Also worth watching is the interplay between Laughton and Lanchester.  They were husband and wife in real life (and would do more than a dozen movies together) and they have perfected their verbal fencing techniques.  Both are outstanding actors of great skill and they are clearly having fun here.  Laughton's character tormenting his nurse on his stair lift is a pure delight.

What you get here is a great combination of comedy and tense court room drama.  The movie picked up six Oscar nominations.

Rated - released before the modern rating system, suitable for most audiences.

Rating - ***** Highest Recommendation

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Still On Pause

Umm, yeah.  So.  Well.

This is taking a little longer to get re-launched than expected.  Being on break has given me some time to think about some tweaks for what I do here.  Actually putting those tweaks into place has been a little complicated.

I have a big trip coming up in just a couple weeks so my hope is to get some baseline posts set up to carry me through till I get a break.

Plus, I'm looking at the possibility of re-launching the radio program/podcast concept too.

So it's not like I've given up.

I promise.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Brief Pause

A couple weeks ago, we suffered a massive computer crash here at Phlipside Central.  The most
massive crash I've ever seen actually.  As we struggled to get it up and running again I've been able to coast a little because I had a backlog of posts.  Unfortunately, we've now burned through that backlog just as I'm finally getting things approaching to normal.

My hope is to be back with a post later this week.

Computer crashes are a PITA.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Movie Review - A Serious Man

A Serious Man (2009) - A physics lecturer up for tenure at a small Midwestern university in the late '60s watches his life spin completely out of control.  His children have little to no use for him, while his wife boots him out to replace him with a recent widower.  His brother lives on the family couch and is filling notebooks with...something.  Meanwhile one of his students is willing to pay him a large
bribe in return for a good grade. No one seems to think that he should have a big problem with all of this, which bothers him a little.  When he turns to his rabbis for spiritual guidance they seem to have even less connection to the "real world" than he does.

I have no idea what to tell you about this movie.  So let's go with this - if you enjoy the trademark weirdness of the Coen brothers (who wrote and directed) then you'll probably find something worthwhile here.  If the Coens just set your teeth of edge then you should probably avoid this one too.  It was a nominee for a Best Movie Oscar.

It's strange, quirky, fascinating and puzzling.  Not my favorite Coen movie (a tie between "Fargo", "Oh, Brother Where Art Thou" and "The Big Lebowski") nor is it my least favorite ("Barton Fink", don't even get me started).  It was...interesting.

Rating - ***1/2 Worth A Look

Monday, April 20, 2015

Movie Review - The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep (1946) - Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) is called in to help settle the debts of the daughter of a wealthy man.  Seems like a simple enough case but even before he gets out of the house another daughter (Lauren Bacall) throws the first of many curve balls headed his way in this noir classic.  By the end Marlowe will be faced with murder, conspiracy, blackmail and maybe even love.

This is one of those movies that simply had no choice but to be great.  The source material is Raymond Chandler's novel of the same name.  This was the first time it was brought to the big screen.  Directing is Howard Hawke, William Faulkner and Leigh Brackett contributed to the script.  Then you add in an incredible cast led by Bogart and Bacall.  They had met two years before on the set of "To Have and Have Not" when she was 19 and he was 45.  The chemistry between the two of them was impossible to ignore.  In the interim she had done a movie that had flopped ("Confidential Agent") and Warner Brothers pushed for changes in the final edit to play up that on screen chemistry.  Off screen the romance had continued to grow and shortly after the movie was released Bogie divorced his wife and married Bacall.

This is the kind of movie you need to just sit back and enjoy the ride.  The plot is filled with twists, and the script is amazingly quotable.  The convoluted story that was the subject of much derision when it first came out can still be hard to follow but in some ways that's part of its charm.

So, if I love this movie this much why does it only get a four star rating?  The down side of the script is that it is very much of its time and place.  Consequently, things that the post war audience would have understood instantly are rather obscure to the modern viewer.  It also makes the story a little clunky at times.  Some of the older movies make the transition to the modern audience with little or no trouble.  This one stumbles, just a bit.

Rating - **** Recommended 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Book Reviews - No Return, Analog Memory andThe Chronicles of Mark Johnson

The following books are available only as e-books as near as I can tell.

The Chronicles of Mark Johnson by Alan Place (2014) - Mark Johnson was a sought after fashion photographer who turned his back on the shallowness of that world.  Now with the help of his friends Mark chases ghosts and fights demons (sometimes his own).

The concept here is pretty good and occasionally the writing matches the ideas.  Mostly the writing is awkward and clumsy.  Just about the time that I would ready to give up Place would turn a nice phrase or carry the story forward adroitly.

In the end if you just need something short to carry you through to the next big book, you could do worse.

Rating - ** Not Impressed

Selected Short Stories Featuring Analog Memory by Nicolas Wilson (2013) - A collection of  15 short stories that are just stacked end to end.  A few pieces of nice story telling hiding among a mass of mediocrity.  A week after I finished the book I went back and looked at the Table of Contents.  Couldn't call up the story for any of the titles.

The title of the book should be a give away - overly complex and a little cutesy.  Really has the look of something that was thrown together just to have something else to sell.

Rating - ** Not Impressed

No Return by George Applegate (2013) - This is actually a short story but it's far and away the best writing of the bunch.  Set at an Earth colony on Mars that has been abandoned to its own devices after a Martian fungus invades Earth and is destroying the ecosystem.  Originally founded by a group of Muslim investors the infidel Safety Officer finds himself in a closed environment now under sharia law.  He must investigate a strange death that leads to a possible conspiracy that may reach beyond the boundaries of Mars.

Nice combination of detective and science fiction stories.  Applegate does a nice job of weaving together some very interesting threads into something that carries you right along.

Rating - *** Worth A Look